A dormant proposal to relocate Minneapolis police’s Fourth Precinct headquarters to another site is getting new life, due in part to ongoing efforts to spur economic development on the city’s North Side.
Fifth Ward Council Member Jeremiah Ellison and senior police officials in recent months have quietly been negotiating a deal with an unnamed group of local investors to move the station from its longtime Plymouth Avenue home. Key details, like how much it will cost or exactly where it may go, have yet to be revealed.
Ian Alexander, a former City Council candidate and one of the proposal’s co-authors, said that at least five sites were considered for the station, but officials ultimately settled on two potential locations: one a few blocks from the current station at 1925 Plymouth Ave. N., and the other near the Hawthorne Crossings strip mall on West Broadway Boulevard, the area’s main commercial hub. Both options involve connecting a new station to a mixed-use development of apartments, offices and retail space that would be fully integrated into the neighborhood, he said.
“We have attempted to put together a larger development that is community-focused, housing-focused and entrepreneurial-focused that supports a healthier and safer community,” Alexander said. “They’re not going to get a traditional police department in north Minneapolis, because north Minneapolis doesn’t need a more traditional police department, it needs something better than that.”
If given the go-ahead, Alexander expects the project to be finished in 2024. The move comes as police officials announced plans to move their downtown offices into the planned consolidated public service building across from City Hall.
Ellison was unavailable for comment on Thursday.
The funding could come from a combination of bonds and tax increment financing (TIF), Alexander said. He also pointed out that the potential West Broadway site is located within a federally designated opportunity zone, which offers substantial tax breaks for any private investment.
Alexander says the proposal borrows from the “polis station” concept — championed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang and being considered in cities like Los Angeles — which re-imagines police stations as welcoming community spaces with cafes, housing and green space for use by cops and residents alike, to promote better understanding between the two sides.
The project’s developers hope to do the same with the North Side station — long derided by critics as a fortified bunker, where visitors need to be buzzed in and the front desk is encased in bullet-resistant plexiglass.
“It was just very telling that Jamar Clark’s death, which was very tragic, was a spark to something bigger, which was the community’s dissatisfaction about what had been happening for years,” Alexander said, referring to the weekslong occupation of the station following the police shooting of Clark three years ago.
A City Council plan to redirect $605,000 in funds to repair and upgrade the station was abandoned after a public outcry. A U.S. Department of Justice report later estimated that the city spent more than $50,000 on repairs and to replace windows, fences and surveillance cameras damaged during the occupation.
Ellison and others have also pushed for moving the firing range, currently housed inside the 30-year-old Fourth Precinct, out of north Minneapolis, because of the message it sends to the community.
In fact, the building’s long list of problems has been a topic of debate at roll calls on the North Side: cramped record-writing rooms; mold in the showers; leaks that spring during heavy rains. The two-story building, it’s regularly pointed out, also has no elevator, making access difficult for visitors with limited mobility.
Discussions about the proposed project have included precinct inspector Aaron Biard and assistant chief Mike Kjos, a veteran of the North Side. The department didn’t immediately respond to a request to interview Biard.
While behind schedule and over-budget, when it opened in 1988 the $3.3 million station was hailed as a sign of progress in the fight against crime and the quest to bring new development to a neighborhood still scarred by the 1966 race riots. It was also seen as an upgrade over the precinct’s old headquarters, which then-inspector Bill Jones described to the Star Tribune as “an awful, dreary, bleak old building with no room.”
Today, the building’s defenders say that it has been a deterrence against crime and, more recently, an economic driver in a downtrodden neighborhood, which hadn’t recovered since many area businesses fled after the racial unrest of the 1960s.
Recent months have seen signs of promise, with Thor Construction relocating its headquarters into a sparkling $36 million, 92,000-square foot office-and-retail complex just down the street from the precinct. Meanwhile, across the corner from the new Thor building, NorthPoint Health & Wellness, the medical and social services nonprofit, announced a $65 million expansion into a former funeral home.
But some longtime residents say that the neighborhood hasn’t been the same since The Way, a community center the station replaced, closed. For decades after the riots, the center, which housed a gymnasium, kitchen, classrooms and meeting rooms, served as a bastion of black empowerment.
When it closed in 1986, Cretia Combs recalls, a piece of the past died.
Two years later, the police station opened on the site.
“They need to turn it back into a community center — let the youth get something out of it,” Combs said, insisting that much of the violence today is the result of young people not having anywhere to go.
The symbolism of replacing a community center with a police station was not lost on longtime civil rights activist Spike Moss, who ran The Way in the late ’80s.
More than just a gathering spot for African-Americans, its closure severed a lifeline for a neighborhood that had been unable to recapture its former glory as an urban cultural hub, he said.
“We had programs that they could use,” Moss said. “When that left, the glue left.”